The Fantasy and Reality of Intimacy
By Rich Simon What better time than Valentine’s Day weekend to think about the contradictions in modern day couplehood? In a world dedicated to convincing us that we’re entitled to more and more choice in our lives, It’s not just that partners want different things –it’s that they so often want both longevity and novelty, both excitement and stability, both deep attachment and plenty of individual freedom. No wonder there’s no relationship formula that works for every couple.
As Valentine’s Day approached, last weekend the New York Times turned the spotlight of its magazine cover story on a provocative topic, debunking the classic therapeutic assumption that good sex automatically comes with healthy, egalitarian relationships. In “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” author Lori Gottlieb cites a newly published study that says more equal couples have 1.5 times less sex per month than their more differentiated counterparts.
Another recent Times article—“Good Enough? That’s Great”—examines three distinct styles of response in couples that have lost their “spark”—Sneakers, Squashers, and Restorers. While we’re likely to see the emotionally unfaithful Sneakers and compulsively adventurous Restorers in our offices, the article proposed that it’s the “appreciatively resigned” Squashers–non-adherents to the “spice up your marriage” philosophy—who confound our cultural expectations the most. Squashers look at their loving, though not thrilling, marriages and think “good enough.”
Are “Squashers” right? Is the have-it-all mentality of our culture with its message that a lasting marriage is one in which passion, companionship, eroticism, desire, and contentment always exist in equal measure an impossibility?
Gottlieb’s story quoted many regular contributors to the Networker and longtime presenters at our symposium, including Mating in Captivity author Esther Perel, who summarized the dilemma of modern day marriage in this way: “It’s a tall order for one person to be your partner in Management Inc., your best friend and passionate lover. There’s a certain part of you that with this partner will not be fulfilled. You deal with that loss. It’s a paradox to be lived with, not solved.”
Then, of course, there’s the flip side to that paradox when things get very simple, at least temporarily. It comes at those moments of connection in the consulting room—or perhaps in your own relationship—when partners are able to give 100% attention to listening to each other in an atmosphere of safety and mutual acceptance. There’s a kind of spiritual power to those moments as a couple gets a glimpse of what it’s like to experience themselves as being true partners in life.
There’s no question that the world is a complicated place and there’s no short cut to intimacy, but no one can deny the power of human connection. Just last week at the end of a couples retreat my wife and I co-led, one couple who seemed particularly tumultuous at the beginning of the retreat but had grown increasing calm and focused through the weekend, made a point of telling us as they left, “This is the best Valentine’s Day present we’ve ever given each other.” With all of the gauzy fantasies that surround this holiday, it was a reminder that much of the work of relationship is something both very simple and very profound–the gift of full presence.
To help support you in your work with couples, we’re offering a Valentine’s Weekend Special– 4 of our most popular webcast series at very special prices. It’s a great way to explore new approaches with couples, how to work with emotion in the consulting room, the role of attachment in couples work, and how to engage effectively with men.